In this second article about product data for manufacturers in the construction industry we look at standards: what they are, why they must be connected to construction product data in a governed way, and how this could be achieved.
What are Standards?
The minimum common specifications, methods and procedures which should be used for construction products are defined by Standards. Standards create a level playing field for all; a benchmark that all companies can adhere to in terms of performance, product testing and processes.
Some standards provide a best practice process - such as the International Standard for BIM, EN ISO 195650, or they may be safety critical and tied to mandatory regulations, such as the BS 476 series, which set out the fire tests on building materials and structures which must be met in order to comply with the Building Regulations Approved Document B.
By complying with British, European and International Standards, manufacturers can demonstrate that the construction industry can specify, buy and sell their products with confidence in those markets.
Production - A manufacturer makes a product;
Testing - The product is tested in an accredited laboratory to ensure it conforms to relevant product standards (e.g BS 1363 plugs and sockets). This means the manufacturer can place the product on the UK market.
Specification - When designers and contractors create or modify a building in the UK, they must comply with the Building Regulations, which specify the standards to which elements of the building must comply. By specifying compliance with these standards, the designers or contractors can require compliance with the building regs.
In the EU - If the product is also tested to comply with a Harmonised Standard (at EU/regional level), this produces a DoP (Declaration of Performance) or where applicable a DoC (Declaration of Conformity). The declaration means the manufacturer assumes legal responsibility that the product complies with the harmonized standard across several countries. Once this has happened the manufacturer can CE Mark the product and market it in the EU, in accordance with the Construction Product Regulation (CPR).
Compliance with standards may also be a requirement for obtaining grant funding – for example, compliance with the International Standard for BIM (EN ISO 195650) would be required for European Grant Funding for BIM related work. However, there is no compliance process for ISO 19650. No one certifies your compliance with a standard; it is purely self-declared.
Be wary of organisations who claim compliance of their products – if compliance isn’t ratified, they may simply be asserting compliance as a credibility marketing device. No product can be ‘BS EN Certified’ by any credible measure. There is no such certification system.
Standards have Governance
The production of standards in the UK is organised by the British Standards Institution (BSi). The BSi state that ‘Standards come from co-operation and agreement’. Standards are a collective work by representatives of organisations and standard users with expertise in the subject matter, who form technical committees to develop the standards alongside BSi staff. Standards are a collaborative process.
BSi has a governance process which can empower professionals to take responsibility and produce confidence and trust in their products.
The Disconnect between Standards and Products
The key to genuine compliance with standards is at the Regional (EU) level, via
- the Construction Product Regulation (the rules),
- Declarations of Performance (the certification) and
- CE Marking (the mark of compliance on the product itself).
Declarations of Performance (DoPs) are key to confidence in compliance, because it is a process of conformity assessment, continuous monitoring and a schedule of routine testing. However, evidence of compliance via a DoP isn’t securely connected to a product throughout its journey from manufacture to use and throughout its life. This disconnect can produce many of the problems we currently see in the industry.
Here are some examples:
Incorrect Product Choice
Arc Fault Detection Devices (AFDDs) are safety critical products which detect and prevent high power discharges within electrical systems, thereby preventing fires. They are mandatory in many countries, including the EU. AFDDs go through rigorous laboratory testing to a defined product standard, which makes them suitable to perform in the right conditions, such as hospitals, government or residential buildings.
When choosing an AFDD for a design, an engineer should select a product according to statements by the manufacturer that it has been tested to specifically appropriate test standards for the intended use. However, we know that the buyers of such products are also looking at price. If the engineer does not specify standard performance, or if the buyer doesn’t understand the importance of that performance, price may well take precedence.
If a product is substituted at any point in its life in a building, this can place responsibility on untrained individuals to have access to and know about complex compliance information. Choosing the wrong product can lead to fire and loss of life. A permanent connection between the product and evidence of its performance can prevent this.
In 2004 a fire in a care home in South Lanarkshire caused the deaths of 14 elderly residents. Alongside the lack of training for staff and inadequate evacuation plans, The Sheriff Principal who led the fatal accident enquiry also identified that all the deaths could have been avoided by a proper system of maintenance.
Adequate maintenance of installations is essential for many products and systems, and often is set out in standards. However, this information doesn’t always transfer through the development of a built asset to its operational staff.
If the information about the maintenance requirements of the products installed in a building could be attached to the asset information, many incidents like this one could be avoided.
Standards and product data need to be connected
Whilst a great deal of effort is made by manufacturers to comply with strict and often complex standards about their products, there is no continual connection between products and the standards they meet, with a reliable governance system, which would give users of that product information and confidence. Instead these users have to rely on unverifiable information and can fall prey to unsubstantiated, untestable marketing claims.
If manufacturers were able and required to connect the compliance information to their products in a way that was verifiable throughout its life, there would be significant improvements in safety which would benefit everyone.
How Interoperable Product Data Can Help
Two International Standards have been published which will help in the process of both product selection and standards compliance. These are ISO 23386: 2020 and ISO 23387:2020.
- ISO 23386 establishes the rules for defining the properties (descriptive fields) used in construction together with a methodology for how they should be written and maintained.
- ISO 23387 sets out the principles and structure for data templates for construction objects.
A Data Template is a set of properties (descriptive fields) about a construction object (be it a product, system, assembly etc). Once a data template is determined for a product, it allows information about any products like it to be compared and shared via machine readable data.
ISO 23386&7 will make it possible to make the test standards for a product transparent. The information about how a product must conform and perform, what the constraints are for its use and more, can be securely accessed throughout its life.
How could standards be connected to products?
Standards and construction products could be connected using the following elements:
- Digitised product information would be produced (using the two new ISOs to ensure the information is genuinely interoperable);
- This information would include test standards and compliance information (e.g. a Declaration of Performance), together with other useful information such as maintenance, compatible products and so on;
- A governance process would require the standards information to be provided (only one Data Template could be produced per product and all manufacturers of that product would be required to use it)
- The compliance information would be accessible via unique digital identifiers on the product itself, which would enable anyone to access this information for the products in their building, when required.
This process would primarily require that the information provided would be genuinely interoperable so that it can be machine readable.
Digital identifiers (for example DOIs) are already being used by some manufacturers (such as SmartCE Marking, QR codes and GS1), but the information isn’t currently used to its full potential.
In an increasingly transparent world, traceability is becoming more and more important. Construction products should be traceable too.
What do you think is preventing the traceability of construction products?
Share Your Views
Over the coming months we will be sharing a number of articles investigating how construction product manufacturers can solve the problem of product data management. Then later in the year we’ll be publishing a Plain Language Guide to Product Data, written specifically for the CEOs of manufacturing companies. If you’d like to know more about this project, please subscribe to this blog using the link below and we’ll notify you as new items are published.
In the meantime, we want to encourage as much debate about the challenges as possible.
- Please comment below with your views and share this article with the #ManufacturersPLG hashtag.
- You can also join the conversation on the 'ask the community' IET forum channel: Plain Language Guide to Product Data for Manufacturers
- We’re also hosting an Open Zoom Call next Friday to discuss this article. If you’d like to join us, please Register to join us on Friday 25 September at 11am-12 noon BST.
- The Zoom Call will be recorded and made available afterwards.
We look forward to hearing your views.
When the call video is published it will appear below: